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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Songs with orchestra
Ruhe, meine Seele op.27 no.1 (1894, 1948) [3:41]
Waldseligkeit op.49.no.1 (1901) [2:53]
Freundliche Vision op.48 no.1 (1900) [2:33]
Morgen op. 27 no.4 (1894) [3:48]
Befreit op.39 no.4 (1898) [5:07]
Meinem Kinde op.37 no.3 (1897) [2:22]
Winterweihe op.48 no.4 (1906) [2:55]
Wiegenlied op.41 no.1 (1899, 1916) [3:57]
Die Heil’gen Drei Könige aus Morgenland op. 56 no.6 (1906) [6:00]
Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings (1945) [25:48]
Gundula Janowitz (soprano)
Academy of London/Richard Stamp
rec. Abbey Road Studio 1, London, April 1988 and November 1989 (tracks 1-9), All Saints Church, Tooting, London, October 1988 (track 10)
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5221302 [59:33]

 

Experience Classicsonline


I have admired the voice of Gundula Janowitz ever since I heard her in the soprano part of Carmina Burana in Karl Böhm’s DG recording, back in the early 1970s. That was made soon after she had first burst onto the international scene, in her early thirties. These Strauss songs were recorded towards the end of her career (her ‘official’ farewell was in 1990), yet the fundamental qualities of her voice remained largely undiminished – a smoothness throughout the registers, a youthful freshness both of tone and of style, and, above all, a radiantly thrilling high register.
 

This last quality suits Richard Strauss down to the ground, and she made one of the most renowned of all recordings of the Four Last Songs with Karajan in the 1970s. You can expect the same standards and the same beauties here. It is greatly to the credit of Richard Stamp and his Academy of London that the orchestral accompaniment – as important as the voice part in these songs – is on a par with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. 

And they are such very wonderful songs; at least three of the ones here are easily as great as those Four Last Songs – I would unhesitatingly nominate Ruhe meine Seele, Morgen and Befreit in that regard. The first of these, which opens the recital, is particularly interesting. Strauss composed it way back in the 1890s for his wife Pauline, herself a fine soprano, with piano accompaniment. Yet, nearly fifty years later, in the terrible days following the end of World War 2, he paused in the middle of composing the Four Last Songs in order to orchestrate this earlier work. The reason he did so is simple and poignant - though the liner-notes do not point out this salient fact; that day, Strauss’s name had been cleared by the de-Nazification tribunal. He turned to the early song, whose words mean ‘Rest, my Soul’, to express his thanksgiving and, it must be said, his profound relief. 

Janowitz’s voice is inherently light; do not expect the weight and intensity of a Schwarzkopf or a Norman. But her relatively uncomplicated, ‘classical’ approach, brings dividends of its own in terms of clarity of expression and phrasing. And then, there is the sheer elation of that extraordinary, golden high register – supreme! 

The final track is no mere ‘filler’, for it contains one of Strauss’s late masterpieces. The Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings is his dirge for lost Germany, inspired, if that’s the word, by walking among the post-war ruins of the Munich Opera House, one of Europe’s most famously beautiful buildings, and a venue where his career had taken some of its first sensational steps. It is a savagely difficult work, a nearly half-hour Adagio of incredible intensity. I have an early Furtwängler live recording, where the Berlin Philharmonic strings are completely lost and at sea for thirty bars or so! Nothing like that here, happily. A meticulously prepared performance, yet full of feeling, and achieving the essential sense of devastation in the coda, where Strauss dredges up, almost inaudibly, the funeral march theme from the Eroica Symphony. 

This is a wonderful disc, though it has to be acknowledged that it enters one of the more competitive fields in the catalogue. Both the songs and Metamorphosen have been blessed by many great recordings. But Janowitz’s voice is truly in a class of its own, one of a kind, and I would urge Strauss lovers and lovers of the soprano voice not to miss the opportunity to hear this recording.

Gwyn Parry-Jones





 


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